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10 Home Remedies To Treat A Dry Cough In Adults And Children

Home Remedies To Treat A Dry Cough

A dry cough is best dealt with through cough suppressants like honey, candy, peppermint, sundew, and carrots. Chest and back massages and limited exposure to inspirable irritants like smoke and dust may offer some relief, too. Use a pillow when you sleep and take a hot shower before bedtime to reduce night-time cough spells. Infants younger than one are best treated by a pediatrician.

It is your body’s natural protective reflex to cough up anything irritating your throat. This may be mucus or an irritant, inhaled or swallowed. A viral infection like the flu, a respiratory disorder like asthma, an allergic reaction to dust or pollen, smoking, or more serious conditions like tuberculosis and lung cancer can cause coughing.

Cough suppressants act on the nervous system to suppress the cough reflex. They can come in handy particularly for dry coughs.

As opposed to a productive cough, a dry cough does not cause you to bring up phlegm.

There are 2 basic strategies to deal with a dry cough. One is to suppress it, the other is to prevent it. There is a host of naturally available cough suppressants like honey and peppermint that can be put to use.

Caution: Cough suppressants are not suitable for children under 6 years of age.

Home Remedies For A Dry Cough

Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do at home to deal with dry, hacking coughs.

1. Have Some Honey

Topping the list of natural cough remedies, honey needs no introduction when it comes to our physical wellbeing.1 Honey’s high viscosity renders it an effective soothing agent to an irritable throat. Its antimicrobial effects are an added perk if it’s a bacterial infection causing your cough.

What To Do: 

  • Lap up a tablespoon of raw, organic honey when you feel throat irritation coming on or in the midst of a coughing spree. You may have a tablespoon 1–3 times a day.
  • Alternatively, add a tablespoon of honey to a cup of hot water, tea, or lemon juice for a warm, comforting drink.

Caution: Honey is generally believed to be unsafe for children below a year old because of an increased risk of botulism. It may also promote dental decay if given regularly before sleep.

2. Suck On A Sugar Candy

What’s better than enjoying a sweet treat while also treating a tickling cough! One study showed that rinsing the mouth with sucrose (sugar) solution helped reduce cough reflex sensitivity.2 This was proved by an increase in the amount of capsaicin (a compound in hot peppers) required to trigger a cough. The sweet taste of a candy can, thus, help save the day.3

What To Do:

  • Suck on some sugar candy whenever your cough goes out of hand.

Caution: Do not give hard candy to children under 3 years of age to avoid the risk of choking.

3. Use Peppermint Leaves Or Oil

The peppermint herb contains a minty compound called menthol. The sensory cooling that it offers a dry, troubled throat can suppress coughs.4 This conclusion, too, was drawn when a significant increase in the amount of capsaicin required to stimulate a cough was seen. Peppermint can, thus, help put a stop to or prevent a dry cough.5

What To Do:

  • Add a few peppermint leaves to boiling water. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the cool vapors for a couple of minutes. Alternatively, you may add 3–4 drops of peppermint oil to boiling water and do the same.
  • You may also drink some peppermint tea.

How To Make Peppermint Tea: Crush 7–10 green, unblemished, and washed peppermint leaves between your fingers or by using a mortar and pestle. Separately, boil some water. Allow the water to cool a little and add it to the leaves in a cup. Depending on how strong you want the tea, allow the leaves to steep for 7–12 minutes. Remove the leaves and drink the water plain, or add honey and lemon for flavor.

Caution: Peppermint or menthol is not suitable for infants. Do not consume peppermint oil.

4. Drink Sundew Tea

A traditionally used cough suppressant is the herb sundew.6 It has been used for ages in Europe as an important cough medicine. Though scientific studies to support the use of this herb in the treatment of coughs are lacking, the herb is often used in homeopathic preparations for the same. Give it a try to see if it works for you.

What To Do: Add only a teaspoon of the dried herb to boiling water to make sundew tea. Restrict yourself to a couple of sips at a time to prevent any side effects.

5. Avoid Exposure To Inspirable Irritants

With the increased levels of pollutions, this one is particularly difficult to follow. However, your would do your irritated throat a favor by limiting your exposure to “tickling” substances such as smoke, dust, and other pollutants.7 You may wear a face mask when you have no choice but to be in the presence of such irritants.

This also means that you need to quit smoking, which includes passive smoking as well.

6. Get A Chest And Back Massage

An uncontrollable, recurrent cough can make your chest and back muscles sore. To feel better, ask someone to massage your chest and back muscles a couple of times a day.8 Though this may not help suppress your cough, you will appreciate the muscle relief.

7. Eat More Carrots

This works especially for smokers. A survey conducted in Norway showed that an increase in dietary vitamin C reduced cough and wheeze in smokers, possibly due to their antioxidant components.9 Though vitamin A predominates in carrots, a raw carrot carries close to 6 gm of vitamin C in every 100 gm – quite a significant quantity.10

What To Do:

  • Chomp on some carrots through the day as a healthy snack, or toss them into vegetable salads.
  • Alternatively, blend a few carrots into carrot juice and consume regularly.

Remedies For A Dry Cough At Night

There is nothing more annoying than having your sleep disturbed. And dry coughs at night are the perfect nemeses for that. Try the following steps to improve your shut-eye.

8. Elevate Your Head While You Sleep

Sometimes, an acid reflux may cause you to cough. A completely flat posture while sleeping can instigate an acid reflux, triggering a cough. Prop your head up with a well-fluffed pillow to prevent this from happening.11

9. Moisten Your Nasal Passage Before Sleeping

Inhaling moisture can help soothe your dry throat. You can create moisture in the air by using a vaporizer or by taking a hot shower and basking in the steam.12 Do this before you tuck in to get some sound, undisturbed sleep.

Caution: Steam can exacerbate your cough if you suffer from asthma, so asthmatics should avoid this method.

10. Stir Up A Bedtime Drink

You can try a combo recipe of honey, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, and ground ginger to stifle a recurrent dry cough spree.13

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, advocated the use of an ancient Greek honey-vinegar concoction (oxymel) for treating persistent coughs.14 We now know why honey works. With its antimicrobial properties, apple cider vinegar too can offer relief by killing cough-triggering bacteria.

  • Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin that has been shown to set off anti-pain cellular reactions.15 It involves the suppression of the pain receptor TRPV1. This may help relieve any painful discomfort caused by a dry, hacking cough.
  • Ginger helps relax your airway within half an hour.16 The accolades it receives for respiratory relief are largely due to the compounds [6]-gingerol, [8]-gingerol, and [6]-shogaol. Because of this, ginger may help get rid of an annoying cough.

Here’s what you’ll need to do:


  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water


Stir the ingredients together and consume about 3 teaspoons of this mixture before you sleep. You might get the relief you are looking for.

Licorice Roots Are Best Avoided

Many proponents of natural remedies have touted licorice roots’ benefits for digestive and respiratory problems, including a cough. However, we advise against the daily consumption of these extracts as its potential side effects outweigh its benefits.

Glycyrrhetic acid in licorice is likely to be the culprit component, capable of causing high blood pressure, potassium deficiency, and severe muscle weakness.17 It is especially harmful to pregnant women, increasing risks of abnormal brain development and behavior disorders in their children.18

Natural Remedies For Children

  • Honey Is Good For Children Older Than One

Between 1983 and 2007, 118 children, younger than 12 years and mostly under 2 years, died due to the misuse of OTC cough medications.19

Honey is considered safe for adults, but what about your children? In one study, 105 children and adolescents with upper respiratory tract infections were given honey at bedtime.20 The honey helped suppress night-time coughing and helped them sleep better – more so than conventional cough syrup. This is possibly due to the antioxidant and antimicrobial effects of honey. A reduction in a child’s night-time coughing will also allow parents to sleep better. Another study reaffirmed honey’s ability to reduce the frequency and severity of coughs in children.21

There is a caveat to these claims. As already mentioned, honey increases the risks of botulism and dental decay in children.

However, children older than a year can benefit from it.

What To Do: Give your child 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey before bedtime.

  • Prop Your Child’s Head Up

For children across all cohorts, including babies, dry coughs can be prevented by ensuring their head is elevated while sleeping.

  • Try Milk Or Water

For infants, younger than one, you may try a couple of sips of milk or water like you would do in the case of hiccups. If your child’s cough persists, consult your doctor.

As a general rule across all ages, if a cough persists for more than a week and is accompanied by a headache and fever, it’s best to seek the advice of a healthcare provider.

References   [ + ]

1, 7, 8, 11. Relieving A Cough. University of Michigan.
2, 4. Wise, Paul M., Paul AS Breslin, and Pamela Dalton. “Sweet taste and menthol increase cough reflex thresholds.” Pulmonary pharmacology & therapeutics 25, no. 3 (2012): 236-241.
3, 5, 12. Cough. University of Maryland.
6. Hohtola, Anja. “Bioactive compounds from northern plants.” In Bio-Farms for Nutraceuticals, pp. 99-109. Springer US, 2010.
9. Omenaas, Ernst, Ø. Fluge, A. S. Buist, W. M. Vollmer, and A. Gulsvik. “Dietary vitamin C intake is inversely related to cough and wheeze in young smokers.” Respiratory medicine 97, no. 2 (2003): 134-142.
10. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture.
13. Home Remedy For Cough. University of Pittsburgh at Bradford
14. Johnston, Carol S., and Cindy A. Gaas. “Vinegar: medicinal uses and antiglycemic effect.” Medscape General Medicine 8, no. 2 (2006): 61.
15. McCarty, Mark F., James J. DiNicolantonio, and James H. O’Keefe. “Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health.” Open heart 2, no. 1 (2015): e000262.
16. Townsend, Elizabeth A., Matthew E. Siviski, Yi Zhang, Carrie Xu, Bhupinder Hoonjan, and Charles W. Emala. “Effects of ginger and its constituents on airway smooth muscle relaxation and calcium regulation.” American journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology 48, no. 2 (2013): 157-163.
17. Omar, Hesham R., Irina Komarova, Mohamed El-Ghonemi, Ahmed Fathy, Rania Rashad, Hany D. Abdelmalak, Muralidhar Reddy Yerramadha, Yaseen Ali, Engy Helal, and Enrico M. Camporesi. “Licorice abuse: time to send a warning message.” Therapeutic advances in endocrinology and metabolism 3, no. 4 (2012): 125-138.
18. Licorice Root. National Center For Complementary and Integrative Health. National Institutes of Health.
19, 21. Ashkin, Evan, and Anne Mounsey. “A spoonful of honey helps a coughing child sleep.” The Journal of family practice 62, no. 3 (2013): 145.
20. Paul, Ian M., Jessica Beiler, Amyee McMonagle, Michele L. Shaffer, Laura Duda, and Cheston M. Berlin. “Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents.” Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 161, no. 12 (2007): 1140-1146.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.